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Setting the Standards with Proper Tableware

Tableware is a necessity for every food service operation with a dining area, regardless of what type of dining. Aside from just plates and utensils, there are a number of other service items that must be featured in the front-of-the-house of every dining operation, and others that can be added for specific dining niches. First, let’s take a look at the primary varieties of dining operations. 

Dining Operations

Aside from the chain restaurants that serve their food mostly “to-go” style, and require mostly disposable utensils, all restaurants require tableware to operate; regardless of the operation type, guests will require plates and utensils to eat.  There are a number of different needs for the wide range for sit-in eateries.  Here’s a list of the primary types of dining establishments and the specific items to look at when shopping:

  • Full Service Fine Dining – Full service fine dining establishments or banquet facilities tend to have the widest array of tableware.  Table settings are traditionally prepared in advance in these businesses, and tend to boast more elegant displays of plates and utensils.  There are usually utensils and plates for each course in every place setting, as well as bread plates, coffee cups, saucers, and teaspoons.  Establishments that offer bread and coffee tend to call for additional serviceware such as bread / roll baskets, carafes, or table decanters.  Since high end banquet facilities often offer other items such as hors d’oeuvres, or will sometimes offer buffet style service, there will be a need for elegant food or beverage displays, chafers, and hors d’oeuvres trays.
  • Full Service Casual Dining – Casual dining establishments do not require the extent of flatware that fine dining does.  Casual dining place settings are set at the time of seating, and don’t have some of the frills found in the fine dining experience (allowing for higher restaurant turnover).  Casual dining place settings are generally basic, with each setting getting only a roll of silverware until their food is served.  The plates and utensils are not as pristine as those in a fine dining establishment, nor do they need to be.  Utensils for soup, coffee, and appetizer / bread plates are an example of some of the flatware brought out to diners at the time their order is served.
  • Self Service Casual Dining – Cafeterias, buffets, or other self service style operations (salad bars, dessert bars, etc.) still require plates and utensils.  Just as full service casual dining doesn’t require businesses to provide extensive tableware, these restaurants usually only carry around 2-3 various styles of plates (one large, one small is usually the norm), bowls for soups or desserts, and pre-rolled silverware.  Since food is taken at will by customers, plates and silverware are also distributed in the same manner.  Plates are often served from stacks or built-in counter dispensers, and silverware can be either taken from a basket or given when customers are seated.
  • Self Service Banquet Dining – Banquet facilities tend to have a bit more high-end service when they are hosting an event with self serve food.  They still tend to have place settings, though not as extensive as full service events, and will distribute dinner plates in the same manner as a standard buffet.  They, like full service banquets, will require chafers, hors d’oeuvre trays, etc., and more often than not banquet facilities will offer both full service and buffet style banquets for their customers to choose from.  For this reason, and for the sheer volume of diners, many banquet halls will stock tremendous amounts of tableware for both buffet and full service banquets.

Standard Tableware:

As previously discussed, there are a variety of pieces of tableware that are standard in every dining establishment.  Though there are many variations in the quantity and styles needed from one business to the next, most all of these eateries will have:

  • Dinner Plates / China – Every operation needs plates for diners, for starters, and appetizers / bread plates, soup bowls, salad bowls, coffee cups, etc. per the needs of their specific operation type.  Most restaurants have a variety of different plates to suit different courses and entrees.  Some fine dining restaurants can even have plates for each specific dish.
  • Silverware – Standard utensils are required for all diners to eat, however the make and variety of silverware needed is different per the needs of your specific business.  Some casual dining restaurants use stainless steel utensils, while fine dining restaurants tend to have a wide array actually silverware to match their elegant table settings.
  • Additional Table / Serviceware  Items – Coffee service table pieces such as sugar packet holders, creamer crocks, as well as items like salt and pepper shakers, gravy boats, platters, ramekins, and other serving dishes fall into to this category.  This also includes items like chafing dishes, hors d’oeuvre trays, plate covers, or other extras banquet facilities may need for service.

Tips For Shopping:

The ambiance and style dining area will decide how extensive your table settings will be, and how much tableware will be required per person.  Small settings or no preset table settings will significantly decrease the amount needed, how a fine dining establishment or wedding banquet hall will require significantly more.  The number of items is completely arbitrary, however some of the additional service items are must have items, such as salt and pepper shakers or ramekins for dressing.

Plates and other tableware can be custom chosen to suit the motif / theme of the dining area.  The variety of plates and silverware can be mixed and matched, and if suitable plates and china cannot be found, some companies can custom make them.  Banquet facilities often have varying designs to give customers a wider range of choices, and fine dining restaurants can have specific plates for every dish, in contrast to buffets and casual dining restaurants that may only have a few different styles of plates.  Table linens, and decorative pieces should also be examined when deciding on the look of tableware.

The variety of options on the menu, as well as the way customers are served that food will directly impact tableware.  For example, a buffet style restaurant that has a soup station will require a generic soup bowl, how, conversely, a fine dining restaurant may require a specific spoon for soup, one for coffee, and one for dessert.

It is important to take into account the volume of customers specific pieces of tableware will be accommodating.  For example, it is common to have a salt and pepper shaker per every 2-3 persons at a banquet table, or that everyone at a casual dining restaurant will require on average 1-2 forks.  It is always important to have extra tableware items lying around as plates can often break, and silverware or steak knives can occasionally find their way into trash cans or disposers.